In 2006, Amy von Heyking, an associate professor at the University of Lethbridge’s Faculty of Education, published a book called Creating Citizens: History and Identity in Alberta’s Schools, 1905 to 1980. A history of citizenship education and school curriculum, the book examined citizenship education in Alberta, a topic in the news again as the Draft Alberta Education K-6 Curriculum potentially enters the homestretch.

Curriculum-development research has been a passion for von Heyking, who has examined history curriculum across Canada, along with educational policy surrounding curriculum development and implementation.

History in particular is a curricular topic that is scrutinized quite heavily, according to von Heyking. “It’s the place where we tell stories about ourselves and about who we should be as Canadians,” she said. “Even going back 100 years, it has always been a contentious area of the curriculum.”

In the 1990s, attempts were made to produce pan-Canadian curriculum frameworks, along with a Western Canadian Protocol, where provinces and territories in the West worked to develop more consistent frameworks. “They managed to do it with Language Arts and Math, and they left Social Studies to the end but could not come to an agreement,” she said. According to von Heyking, Alberta’s approach to Social Studies makes it even more difficult to alter curriculum.

We have a long history of Social Studies education in Alberta,” she said. “It was introduced in the 1930s, and Alberta remains the only province in Canada to actually teach inter-disciplinary Social Studies through to the end of Grade 12.”

Today, there is a greater appreciation for the fact it isn’t just about learning historical information – it's about being able to think historically, understand historical research, and challenge historical accounts. It’s a subject in which all Alberta students should see themselves and come to know and value others.

In Alberta, the rethink of the K-6 curriculum, which included Social Studies, tracks back to the 1990s. “The beginning of large-scale curriculum reform began with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and their call for employability skills in the new knowledge economy where people have to collaborate and problem solve,” said von Heyking.

The process ramped up in Alberta under the Progressive Conservatives in 2009 with Inspiring Education, and proceeded with a 2013 Ministerial Order. The New Democratic Party released a draft K-4 program of studies in 2018 before the United Conservative Party restarted the process in 2019.

According to von Heyking, no matter the province, curriculum development has always included a few features key to producing internationally-recognized systems in Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. “That’s largely because of the coherence of our programs. They're resourced well, teachers are well prepared to teach those programs, they’re research-informed, and they’re developed collaboratively.”

With that in mind, she added creating high-quality educational systems, such as Alberta’s, is attributed to a rigorous accountability framework working in tandem with a collaborative system. “There has always been a very respectful and constructive approach. That is true of the jurisdictions across Canada – it is a hallmark of the way we have always worked.” According to von Heyking, the current K-6 draft was not developed collaboratively or consistently. “We have to go back to these principles,” she said.

Writer: Garrett Simmons
Photo: Rob Olson

Link to report on Alberta’s education system prepared for Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy here.

Related story links to Faculty of Education Graduate Studies and Research:
Education Research on Place-conscious Pedagogy: Creating Curriculum from Local Perspectives with Dr. Sharon Pelech
The Creativity of Curriculum and 36 Years with the Faculty of Education: Dr. Richard Butt
Coping with COVID-19: Harnessing our Natural Stress Response
Coping with COVID-19: Loneliness
How Students Can Get Screen Time Break During COVID-19: Experts
The Intersectionality of Faith, Mental Health and Wellness for Racialized   Populations During the Pandemic
Bridging Neuroscience and Education: Riley Kostek (BSc’09/BEd’11)
Teaching and Assessing for Life Beyond the Classroom: Dr. David Slomp
Five questions with Shining Graduate Rita Lal (BSc/BEd '01, MEd '20)
Teaching Multiple Literacies in Canadian Classrooms: Sarah Gagnon (BSc/BEd’11, MEd candidate)
Wellness is About Writing: Teri Hartman (BA/BEd '02, current MEd student)
Leadership in Education: The Power of Generative Dialogue
A Generative Approach to Leadership for All Educators

For more information please contact:

Darcy Tamayose
Communications, Dean's Office, Faculty of Education
University of Lethbridge
Learn more about the Faculty of Education: Legacy Magazine (2008-2019)
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